An Adoptive Parent Writes:
My husband and I are parents to a wonderful 13 year old young man who we adopted at birth. He is multi racial; 1/4 black, 1/4 Hispanic and 1/2 Caucasian. He is extremely smart . We also have a 10 year old daughter who is a blond haired blue eyed doll.
For the last couple of years our son has seemed so angry…toward everyone but particularly toward us. I know a lot of it is adolescence, but I also know that he is struggling with issues that I cannot possibly fully understand. We encourage him to express his feelings to us and create an environment where it is safe to say anything (with respect) to us.
Over the weekend he said he felt “abandoned” by his birth mother and struggles with rejection. I was so relieved that he finally was able to identify his emotions and that he felt comfortable to express them to both his dad and me. My question is …where do we go from here? He says he knows intellectually that he was placed with us out of a deep love by his birthmother and a desire to give him a quality of life that she couldn’t and that we loved him, but in his heart he feels rejected.
I have read many articles to know that this is a process that most adoptees go through….a grieving of sorts. Our situation is further complicated by the fact that he is bi-racial in a predominantly white community and that he has an “all American” looking sister. He has had trouble making and keeping friends his whole life and I know he feels isolated. What can we do for him?
John Raible Answers:
Since I am told that you have already received referrals that address the abandonment issues, I will focus on the racial aspect to your son’s dilemma. Of course, my heart goes out to him, and to you, as you struggle through these hard to talk about emotions.
It sounds like your family talks about the hard stuff, which is great. But as a parent, I know that kids sometimes say exactly what they think we want to hear. If your son has grown up hearing that it’s okay to talk about his feelings of rejection by his birth mom, it should not be surprising when he verbalizes those feelings. I would be more interested in what he DOESN’T say.
What messages did he get about his birth mom? And what about his birth father? As I grew up in an all white setting, not knowing many African Americans, but also knowing that a mysterious black man known as my Birth Father had sired me, I walked around with mixed emotions about black people. I also grew up believing that no black family would adopt me, and this was understood as the “reason” I was in a white family. Imagine the subconscious ambivalent feelings I carried inside me about black people.
I knew I was supposed to like black people, and feel good about being black. But where were they when I needed them? These were the questions I wrestled with, unable to voice them to my folks. How could I ever say such things, and risk sounding ungrateful for being adopted into a wonderful family? And how could I be mad at black people in general when our core family values stressed anti-racism and racial equality?
My parents did a good job helping me accept my blackness as a biracial boy. But I never would have been able to verbalize my feelings about my black birth father, or the way I generalized those feelings towards all black people. On the other hand, I would have loved to be able to talk to other young people in my situation.
Is there a support group near you for adopted teens? What about finding places where your son can meet and become friends with other biracial kids and other kids who look like him, adopted or not? Teens tend to talk to each other, and less to their parents. At least, this is what I saw with my own sons, and thinking back on my own adolescence. It will be important for your son to have access to peers and adults of different backgrounds. The more people he has access to, the better his chances of finding the one or two he can really connect with and let all these confusing feelings out.
It’s hard to accept that as parents we can’t be everything to and for our kids. One of the best gifts we can give our children as they progress through adolescence is access to other adults whom we can trust to help them along the way, in ways we ourselves may not be able to. I encourage you to reach out to families of color, whose children are dealing with some of the same issues. Start maybe with interracial family groups, mixed race student groups at a nearby college campus, or go online. There’s a whole community available through cyberspace. There’s no reason for your son to suffer alone. Good luck!
Michelle Johnson Answers:
You have good reason to be concerned. You are living the reality we are preaching, that love is not enough to heal children in a hurtful world. Your son, is truly a “man-child in the promised land” (a book title I recommend), although he can’t see the promise about some of it right now. Yes, every adolescent goes through issues of fitting in, making friends and finding an identity that feels good. Adoption and race compound things. The truth of our situations is that, for whatever reason, we are not being parented by birthmom and dad in their home communities.
I was raised to believe my mother chose to make a placement plan. In actuality her rights were terminated 14 months after I was born because she failed to achieve the promised milestones to get me back. Not as rosy a picture as I grew up with, but the truth nonetheless. If you know it, share the truth with your son. Now is the time if you haven’t, as he is talking about it. What one knows and what one feels about a circumstance are different, and it is important and positive that he is able to articulate the difference.
Be aware if you are expressing different value systems in front of your children, for they pick up on it. You are possibly unknowingly playing into stereotypes of your children’s different cultural groups. Society tells us that to be blond and blue-eyed is to be beautiful, so anything else is less or not beautiful. I was told by my family that I was beautiful often enough to partially believe them. A part of why I could not totally buy into this as a child was because they were also blond and blue eyed, and there was something unsettling about being told this by “more perfect” people, as society has defined them. My broad nose, thick lips and unruly afro were things kids commented upon and shied away from. So I knew that, while I was beautiful in my family’s eyes, other eyes judged me more harshly. This reality was something they could never truly understand.
So I figured out pretty quickly that if I couldn’t corner the market in the looks department, I’d do it in smarts. As with many adoptees, my drive to achieve academically was based in part, upon an attempt to please my parents and reinforce their decision to adopt me. But there was also the need to prove my worth to those who deemed my culture and, by extension me, less worthy. You need to reinforce your son’s beauty and your daughter’s intelligence or they may feel trapped into roles, lives, and decisions that also have negative connotations.
I would suggest that you spend time reflecting upon the messages your children have been getting from you, as well as those inherent in our racist society, and then rectifying all that you can. I also advise relating this story to other people of color so you get a broader perspective. Your son needs Black role models, especially men and boys who have lived through similar things. He also needs to explore his Hispanic heritage as well. Often, biracial children are encouraged to address only the darkest part of themselves, in terms of pigmentation. This can mean, if they have more than two ethnic backgrounds, the others are ignored.
I’m sure you love both your children and have tried to do your best for them. Your son’s anger is most likely directed at your culture, rather than you personally, and his behavior is an indication he needs to work through this with your assistance and support. You have articulated that you are able to give both, so you are on your way!